Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Kids, Go Ahead and Appropriate

Let’s all just agree that Halloween is a holiday, mainly for kids, to dress up as someone or something they are not. And they go house to house, getting treats, presumptively to prevent them from doing tricks—which their good parents would never allow them to actually do—and as a reward for the clever costumes, even if said costumes are hidden under winter coats that weren’t even needed a week ago.

That’s really it. Scary stuff may get added in as they get older. But, as grandson Little Political Sphere 2 told me this weekend, “Grandma, your decorations aren’t really scary; they’re funny.” Yes, they are. Which is really the point.

The ghosts around our house aren't very scary.

There may be historical references to nefarious things surrounding Halloween. But that isn’t what’s going on these days. Grown-ups might go in for scarier movies and other really creepy things. But for kids, Halloween is about costumes, candy, and fun.

It is not about solving adult social problems. It is not about prejudices, bigotry, racism, or something supposedly offensive called “cultural appropriation.”

Whatever happened to the axiom, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”?

Instead, little kids get accused of being insensitive, and microagressive.

Here’s a clue: You know you’re in the wrong, if you’re accusing five-year-olds of purposely offending you with a Halloween costume.

There’s another new word I discovered in reading about the evils of culturally appropriative Halloween costumes: woke. In the urban dictionary, it means being culturally aware and sensitive. Or, as the urban dictionary sarcastically adds,

state of perceived intellectual superiority one gains by reading The Huffington Post.
Ali is so woke. At brunch she explained how wearing anything other than Chuck Taylor's or Tom's is really a microaggression. Hey did you get your Amy Schumer tickets yet?
How does this apply to our un-woke little munchkins? (Can I say that—or is it insensitive to the littler-than-American inhabitants of the place Dorothy landed, which was not in Kansas anymore?)
It implies that if your child dresses up like a Disney princess from some other time and place, they are being hateful. So, no little Jasmines. No little Tianas, No Moanas. No Elenas of Avalor. No Mulans—although there seems to be less complaint about pretending to be Asian, since they’re already at the top of the class in America.

However, if your little girl is Caucasian, like her parents, she shouldn’t dress up as Frozen Queen Elsa either. As feminist blogger/complainer Sachi Feris, who runs the site Raising Race Conscious Children, says,

I feel like because Elsa is a White princess, and we see so many white princesses, her character sends the message that you have to be a certain way to be “beautiful” or to be a ‘princess’ ... that you have to have white skin, long, blonde hair, and blue eyes.
Really? If a little girl dresses up as a fictional character she admires—one from a fictional land that seems Scandinavian—then she’s dissing all the other types of beauty? Maybe she just loves the movie Frozen, because of the story and the beautiful music and other things that make it worth re-watching endlessly. Maybe it has little to nothing to do with the hair and eye color of the character, or worse, assuming that is the only kind of beauty.

Let’s just agree that inculcating little kids to be woke is a misuse of their childhood.

There was a clip of an interview, from our local Fox news station, talking seriously about the cultural appropriation “problem.”

The woman who takes it seriously could easily have said the very same things, in the same way, as a parody. She loses all credibility when she complains about Americans celebrating Cinco de Mayo. They wear sombreros and celebrate Mexican culture—how dare they! That holiday, though, if you weren’t aware, isn’t a Mexican holiday celebrated by immigrants here; it’s an unofficial American holiday with the purpose of celebrating Mexican culture, because of our many Mexican immigrants. She’s upset that the holiday accomplishes its purpose.

I suggest this: If you’re feeling offended with behavior that is not intended to offend, you have a problem; you need to fix yourself in order to function within civilization.

If you’re feeling guilty because you’re accused of offensive behavior when no offense was intended, do not genuflect to the offended, giving them incentive to continue being offended. 

Do not apologize for something you did not do, which was offend. Instead, do something socially appropriate. Try laughing, without derision toward the person, but clearly disarming the accusation. Point out the absurdity of labeling little children as racists for dressing up as a princess, or a Native American, or an ancient Egyptian, or any other costume representing something they are not. That is, after all, what a costume is—pretending to be someone or something you’re not. Trying it out for the day. For fun.

When it’s no longer Halloween, it’s still a good idea to dis-empower the offended.

Go ahead and do what you want with your hair—braids, cornrows, or dreadlocks included. Wear the earrings you want. Hoop earrings, for example, have been pretty mainstream, off and on trend, at least since the 1960s, without having any race or ethnicity attached. The same for Nehru jackets, or Asian inspired dresses. Or harem pants. Or dirndls. Or any other in-or-out-of-fashion statement that may have been “inspired by” some ethnicity.

And go ahead and decorate your home with things you love from whatever culture. It’s how we express appreciation for various cultural details. The more we love and appreciate about various cultures, the more we understand one another, accept one another, and get along in harmony.

We miss out on those benefits if we get our hands slapped every time we try to take something from a different culture into our melting pot lives. So let’s just stop letting those hand slappers get away with being offended by our appreciating one another.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

About the New Kind of Boy Scout

It was news, about a week ago, that Boy Scouts of America would now allow girls to participate in the Cub Scout program, and would soon make regular Scouting available, so that girls would have the opportunity to earn the rank of Eagle.

This may seem like “one more nail in the coffin” after previous announcements. (I actually saw that phrase, on Facebook, in response to the announcement.) But, personally, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Today I saw a video that clearly summarized the concerns of those who see this as one more nail. It’s worth looking at, before I share another view. This is news personality Liz Wheeler. Her video ends with this minute:
Liz Wheeler
screen shot from here

There’s a very simple reason cultural Marxists want to destroy the idea of gender. If we erase gender, that erases traditional gender roles in society. If we erase gender norms in society, that erases traditional relationships. If we dissolve man-woman relationships, that breaks down marriage. If we attack marriage, that destroys the family structure. If we lose the family structure, people all across the nation will be forced to resort to reliance on the government, instead of their families, for everything you can think of, A to Z. From emotional support to education. From financial assistance to morals, God, and friends. What happens when people rely only on government? 1984 happens. And the liberal government politicos who push this cultural suicide on us in the first place, now in a position of absolute control over every aspect in our lives, grow very very rich. Never underestimate the power of your voice in fighting these culture wars.
I agree with her about the culture wars. I appreciate the step-by-steps she outlines of the slippery slope. I’m also wary of changes to the Boy Scouts of America over the past several years—mostly due to pressure from the LGBTQ bully/lobby. And you can include the feminist lobby with that.

But this latest change isn’t exactly caving to the pressure—and much of the pressure wasn’t coming from where you might think.

First, the change to allow girls to join Cub Scouts, and eventually Boy Scouts—in addition to the older Explorer Scouts and Sea Scouts that have included girls for many years—does not put girls into the same Cub Scout dens along with the boys. It allows Packs to form dens specifically for girls, using the same program as the boys; or entire packs can form for girls. When the program eventually begins accommodating girls in Boy Scout troops, they will be in separate troops as well.

So, the Boy Scouts have succeeded in taking away an issue from the pressure groups, without taking away the opportunity for boys to be among boys.

And there is a plus for girls. On the ground, among families raising girls and boys and participating in scouting, parents have been asking for the Boy Scout program for their girls. Not to erase gender roles, but to provide something valuable for their daughters as well as their sons.

As the BSA announcement says,

The historic decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls, the organization evaluated the results of numerous research efforts, gaining input from current members and leaders, as well as parents and girls who’ve never been involved in Scouting–to understand how to offer families an important additional choice in meeting the character development needs of all their children.
Girl Scouts began about three years after Lord Baden Powell began Boy Scouts, in London. It was obvious, even 100 years ago, that what boys were being taught was valuable for girls too—preparedness, self-reliance, honor, self-control, or, as the Boy Scout Law and Oath, which differ slightly from Cubs to regular Scouts, but emphasize character traits that lead to civilization.

The Girl Scouts have similar Laws and other reminders. The Girl Scouts patterned themselves originally after the Boy Scouts, with some differences related to actual gender differences. But the two organizations have always been separately run.

There was a time when the Boy Scouts tried to serve girls through Campfire Girls, which also separated. They were popular in the past, but now, as far as I can tell, is too small now to meet the need.

Girl Scouts, as an organization, are up in arms. What the Boy Scout change does is pull girls away from Girl Scouts, and that offends them.

But, in my opinion, based on our experiences with both, the Boy Scouts has been a solid program, working hard to build boys into men, for a very long time. Girl Scouts has had some value, depending on how the local troop functions. But programs change. And the Girl Scout Gold Award—the pinnacle award, after earning the Silver  and Bronze Awards, with all their requirements—has never carried the social honor that the Boy Scout Eagle Award carries.

Our Brownie troop years were pretty good, and up until age 12. And we had some good camping experiences after that. But programs kept changing. Even the type of accomplishment marker kept changing—while boys have had badges you can put on either the uniform or on the sash, depending on what the item is, without much change. We got through the Silver Award with our daughter, but working almost entirely on our own. No one else was working toward any goal. There just wasn’t as much sense of purpose in meeting together with the troop.

My daughter, and many girls her age (mid-20s) look at this change and say they’d have loved to have had the Boy Scout program, back in their growing years.

And parents would like that too. Sometimes it’s just a matter of convenience for the family. If they can coordinate just enough to have the same day or nearby location for meetings, that would help.
In reality, there are churches and schools that sponsor both Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, and sometimes they meet at the same time, in nearly the same place—such as at different tables in a school cafeteria. Where that’s already happening, there’s not much incentive to form new Boy Scout troops for boys. But where families are serving in their Boy Scout troops and can’t find what they need for their daughters, this is good news. And it’s very pro-family news. And very pro-civilization.

In our church, the largest Church sponsor of BSA, there has always been a parallel program for girls—and for boys around the world, wherever Boy Scouts are not a viable option—there will be no LDS-sponsored dens or troops for girls. And that will continue to be the choice of the sponsoring organization. The program for Young Women has an ultimate award, the Young Womanhood Award, which we tried to give the respect it deserves. But I’m sorry to say it has never received as much respect as earning the Eagle Scout rank. That was one of the reasons we tried Girl Scouts in addition.

I hope the BSA is right, that this is just a better way to serve families. And that it will remove the incentive for attacks from the pressure groups. I hope they’re right, because we’re in greater need than ever of ways to bring up our children with the values of civilization.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tax Talk

A few days ago, October 19, there was a debate, unrelated to a candidate campaign, between Senators Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders on CNN. [Transcript here.]They had one a while back on Obamacare. This one was specifically about taxes, concurrent with a tax plan working through the legislative process right now.

screen shot from here
Ted Cruz started with this summary:

This debate is very, very simple. Bernie and the Democrats want every one of you watching today to pay more taxes. And Republicans want to lower the taxes for each and every person watching this debate.
Now, tonight I'm going to make a prediction. Bernie is going to suggest in just a few seconds that this is not really about you, this is about, "taxing the rich." That's what the Democrats always say. But here's what you need to know. Every time Bernie says the rich, what he means is taxpayers. And so if you pay taxes, he's talking about you.
And Bernie Sanders begins with, wouldn’t you know, coveting the rich and hating on those evil Koch brothers:

Let me make a prediction:
In two minutes, Senator Cruz is going to tell you that if we give tax breaks to the billionaires like George W. Bush did, like Ronald Reagan did, we're going to create zillions of jobs and you're all going to become very, very rich, that we have a trickle-down economic theory, tax breaks for the wealthiest people, the largest corporations, and, whoa, everything is good.
That is a totally fraudulent theory. Here is the reality of American society today. For 40 years, the middle class of this country, the great middle class has been shrinking. And what we have seen is a massive transfer of wealth from working families to the top 0.1 percent, trillions of dollars because of cooperate greed and an unfair tax system.
Now, the Trump Republican tax proposal that's before us today, this proposal is being pushed by Senator Cruz's campaign contributors, some of the wealthiest people in this country, by the Koch brothers, who are worth $90 billion. Why are they pushing this agenda? Because 80 percent of the tax breaks in this proposal will go to the top 1 percent.
In fact, 30 percent of the middle class will end up paying more in taxes. Forty percent of the tax benefits will go to the top 0.1 percent. This is massive tax breaks for the wealthy.
So it took one minute, just 163 words, to get to the Koch brothers, who are virtually never mentioned at Republican meetings (I attend many), or at tea party meetings (I attend even more of those), or on conservative radio, or in conservative articles. In fact, the first time I ever heard of them, it was in a left-wing pro-socialist article, claiming they had a stranglehold over all conservative thought—so I, a conservative thinker, looked them up just to know who they were. I wrote about them in May 2011.

There are, of course, exaggerations in Sanders’ prediction about what Cruz would claim: “zillions of jobs,” everybody becomes “very, very rich,” etc. So that even saying “more than zero jobs will be created” would sound like something to be flippantly dismissed. But I thought I’d look at some of the data. 

Sanders says the middle class has been shrinking for 40 years. Not sure that’s essential knowledge, but it seems measurable. So I looked it up. I think the data probably comes from a Pew Research Study

Screen shot from here

Today the middle class is about 49.9%. That means that’s the percentage earning a middle income. Pew Research defines that as “two-thirds to two times the national median income for your household size” or about $46,000 to $141,000 for a 4-person household. Roughly 29% make a lower-class income, which includes entry-level workers, full-time students, retirees—not simply full-time workers who can’t make ends meet, although they are among this level. Another 21% make upper incomes.

The change has been happening over 40 years. But Bernie would have you believe this is all bad news. There has been a slight growth in lower-income households: from 25.2% in 1971 to 29% in 2015, so, over about 4 ½ decades—coinciding, incidentally, with the “War on Poverty.” Hmm.

But, most of the dwindling middle class has come at the upper end: from 14% in 1971 to 21.1% in 2015. So the middle class lost 3.8% to the lower class, and 7.1% to the upper class. In other words, more people are moving up. That’s not a bad thing.

Here’s another detail: “Upper-class Americans have seen their incomes rise 47 percent, while lower-class families have gained only 28 percent.” This is not a bad thing either, if you realize the good stuff is happening to more people. Unless you’d rather see bad happen to everyone if good isn’t happening to you.

And here’s another thing to note: while lower income families aren’t gaining as fast as we’d like, it’s not mostly the same families staying in poverty over those decades. Mostly those are newcomers—new young adults, new students, new entry-level workers. Most of those people gain experience and move up.

But Bernie’s view is that those poor families are specific people losing out because specific rich people are getting their gains.

That’s what you call covetousness. And “Thou shalt not covet.”

If we needed to summarize the difference between Sander’s view and Cruz’s view, it would be that Sanders thinks it’s unfair for anyone to rise; anyone who succeeds should have their rise taken away and given to someone who didn’t rise. Regardless of difference in effort. Using the force of government.

There was a significant portion of the debate talking about Denmark. A man from Denmark posed a question:

And, you know, these are countries which—where the government spends—taxes and spends approximately twice the level of the United States. And while I am very sympathetic to many of your spending proposals, especially on the things you mention on early childhood and single-payer and the like, I also know that these are countries that heavily tax everybody, not just the rich people, middle classes. They have consumption taxes on everything of 20 percent.
So while I'm very sympathetic to what you're saying, my sense is still that you would like to spend as a Scandinavian but not tax as one, is that right?
Since Bernie talked about how we need “free” health care and “free” child care—that these are “rights” we are born with and therefore the government is obligated to provide—let’s look at the cost of “free.” I wrote about Denmark a while ago. [  2-11-2016   ] Using data that a young Danish writer offered, an ordinary working class Dane who makes $25,000 DKK a month (about $4,000, which would be $48,000/year) ends up with 9,848.71 DKK before he can start making choices about how to spend it. Here’s what I said:

That is 39.39% of your original. You have paid 60.61% of your income. If you were wealthier, you would add 15% [in taxes] earlier in the process. Not far off from what Bernie Sanders thinks those terrible rich people ought to be paying here. But note that in Denmark everybody pays, no matter how little they make.
Socialism isn’t about getting free stuff; it’s about spending 60% or more of your income on those “free” things, without market choice. Everyone pays it. There’s no getting away from it. If you’re healthy and would rather pay for minimal health care, so you can save up for a down payment on a house, you don’t get that choice. If you want faster internet or more media options than the single media company offers, you don’t get that choice.
But for all the lack of choice, you work until mid-July or later for the government and can only use what you make the rest of the year to support your food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and entertainment choices.
Meanwhile, the government is telling you how happy you must be, because of the good way the government takes care of you.
To translate the numbers in our US experience, a single person makes $48,000 a year, which feels pretty good just out of college. But the government takes $29,092.80, leaving you $18,907.20.

But your healthcare is minimal; isn’t that worth it? If you’re a young, healthy person, do you think $2,424.40 is a good deal for you? Let’s throw in child care—not quite free; the Dane says it’s about $300 a month, depending on region. So, let’s take away $3,600 from your $18,907.20, which leaves you $15,307.20 for your discretionary spending like food, housing, transportation, or travel.

Do you feel better, earning $44,000, but getting to spend only $15,307.20 the way you choose, in exchange for “free” stuff?

Bernie made the false claim that the average Dane has a better standard of living than the average American. But 70% of Americans, according to the data he used, are middle class or above, so they can buy a home, one or two cars, high-speed internet, a big screen TV, and save up for vacations, open their own businesses, prepare for their retirement, and in every other way “pursue happiness.”
Meanwhile, their Danish counterpart is less likely to own a home, more likely to live in an urban setting (in an apartment, without land), and more likely to work for the government (1 in 4).

Ted Cruz brought in statistics about socialized medicine in Denmark:

If you look at socialized medicine, there are waiting periods. There's rationing. The government says, if you're an elderly person and you need a hip replacement, it says, well, you may not get a hip replacement. We were talking about Denmark. The average wait time in 2014 for cataract surgery was 83 days...
And the average time in Denmark, which he brought up, for hip replacement was 55 days, 59 days for knee replacement.
The man asking the question believed these statistics were more negative than the reality. Anecdotally, he reported that his mother was treated for cancer within a couple of days of her diagnosis. However, I don’t know exactly where Cruz got his statistics, but he’s not haphazard about gathering and memorizing that kind of thing. My own familiarity with socialized medicine, Canada’s, involves a former neighbor’s father. He was told they couldn’t do anything to treat his cancer, and he should plan to die soon. He studied, changed his diet, and came to the US for some necessary care. No thanks to Canada’s socialized health care system, he lived six more important years while his grandchildren were growing.

The health care discussion was a side issue for this debate. But what it did was clarify the two vastly different philosophies on taxation. Despite some early dissembling, Bernie Sanders was really in favor of raising everyone’s taxes, significantly—up to Denmark’s levels, which are the highest in the world.

Bernie finally admitted that, but he believed promising all the free stuff would persuade voters:

If we can explain to people, yeah, you're going to be paying more in taxes, it's going to be a progressive tax system. The wealthy are going to pay their fair share, not the middle class, not the working class, but everybody will pay some more.
Cruz pointed out that admission moments later, and Bernie interrupted to tell him not to put words in his mouth. He forgot (or maybe didn’t pay enough attention to know) that Cruz remembers what he’s heard verbatim; it’s his superpower. And he’s better at math:

Bernie's tax plan cost over $13 trillion. That's what he's proposed raising in new taxes. And who pays for it? Well, the Democrats always talk about the millionaires and billionaires, but here's a simple fact. We could take every single person making $1 million a year or more and confiscate 100 percent of their income, everything they make, every penny, and it would raise about $1 trillion, about 8 percent of the cost of Bernie's tax plan.
That means if you want tax revenue, you don't get it from the millionaires and billionaires. You get it from the middle class. You get it from the working men and women in this country.
One of Cruz’s better points was that higher taxes slow growth, and lower taxes lead to more growth. Cruz had charts. Growth is important, because we’ll never get Congress to cut enough spending to cut the deficit. Here’s Cruz’s summary:

Obama versus Reagan, under Obama, median income increased 6 percent. Under Reagan, 17 percent. How about African-Americans? Under Obama, median income increased 8 percent. Under Reagan, 12 percent. How about women? Under Obama, median income increased 6 percent. Under Reagan, 25 percent. Young people, under Obama, 9 percent, under Reagan, 55 percent. Young women, under Obama, 8 percent, under Reagan, 73 percent. And, finally, the bottom 20 percent, those struggling, under Obama, 12 percent, under Reagan, 40 percent.

What I don’t know is whether the current tax plan is as good as we need it. But what I do know is that we Americans make better decisions about how to spend the money we earn than the government does.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Texas Ballot Propositions 2017

Today’s post is for Texans. We have seven propositions on the November ballot—and almost nothing else in this off-year election. Propositions on the ballot are for altering the Texas Constitution, which is the basic law of the state—much more specific and inclusive than the US Constitution. The way this works is, the proposition goes through the state legislature, as a House Joint Resolution or a Senate Joint Resolution. If it passes both houses, it goes before the people during the election following the legislative session—so, November elections during odd-numbered years.
The sample ballot for my precinct,
only propositions and school board races.

Sometimes the legal language makes it challenging to know how to vote, if you see it for the first time in the voting booth. So I’m offering some background today.

I’ll be providing the legislative information; you can use this to look up the actual bill on the Texas Legislature site online, and to see how the vote went. Then I’ll include the ballot language, followed by the Explanatory Statement provided by the Secretary of State. Plus, I’ll add an explanation from my son Political Sphere, who, as a lawyer, understands legal language better than I do
If you’re still looking for more information on any of these propositions, you might want to refer to the analyses by the Texas Legislative Council, which includes a summary of comments by proponents and opponents: fullversioncondensed version.

I hope this helps all of us make an informed decision on each issue.

Bill Number: HJR 21
Bill Author: Bell     House Vote: 143-0 (3 Present, Not Voting); Senate Vote: 31-0

Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of part of the market value of the residence homestead of a partially disabled veteran or the surviving spouse of a partially disabled veteran if the residence homestead was donated to the disabled veteran by a charitable organization for less than the market value of the residence homestead and harmonizing certain related provisions of the Texas Constitution."

Explanatory Statement: HJR 21 proposes a constitutional amendment that would permit the Texas legislature to expand the circumstances under which a partially disabled veteran or their spouse may qualify for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of part of the market value of the veteran’s residence homestead. Currently, the Texas legislature may provide that a partially disabled veteran or their spouse is entitled to an exemption from ad valorem taxation of a percentage of the market value of the disabled veteran’s residence homestead only if the residence homestead was donated to the disabled veteran by a charitable organization at no cost to the veteran. The amendment would allow the Texas legislature to provide that the exemption also may be taken when the residence homestead was donated, sold, or transferred to the disabled veteran by a charitable organization for less than the market value of the residence homestead. The amendment also harmonizes certain related provisions of the Texas Constitution.

Political Sphere’s Assessment: This is a simple amendment which amends a provision providing a specific exemption to partially disabled veterans, adding an additional requirement to qualify for the exemption that they receive the real estate from at less than market value.
Honestly, it looks like a lot of things have to go right already to qualify for this particular exemption: you have to be a veteran; you have to be disabled, but you cannot be designated as 100% disabled; you have to have the property donated to you, and the donor must be a charitable organization. So an additional requirement that it also be donated for less than market value is not a significant change, and I have no particular opinion for or against.

Bill Number: SJR 60
Bill Author: Hancock     House Votes: 143-0 (2 Present, Not Voting); Senate Votes: 30-0 (1 Absent)

Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment to establish a lower amount for expenses that can be charged to a borrower and removing certain financing expense limitations for a home equity loan, establishing certain authorized lenders to make a home equity loan, changing certain options for the refinancing of home equity loans, changing the threshold for an advance of a home equity line of credit, and allowing home equity loans on agricultural homesteads."

Explanatory Statement: SJR 60 proposes a constitutional amendment to require that certain conditions be met for the refinancing of a home equity loan to be secured by a voluntary lien on a homestead. The amendment also would: redefine what is excluded in the calculation of the cap on fees associated with a home equity loan, lower the cap from 3% to 2% of the original principal amount of the extension of credit, and specify that such fees are in addition to any bona fide discount points used to buy down the interest rate. The amendment would further specify the list of authorized lenders to make home equity loans, change the threshold for an advance of a home equity line of credit, allow agricultural property owners to acquire home equity loans, and update technical terminology in the Texas Constitution. The amendment would be effective on January 1, 2018, and applicable only to a home equity loan made or refinanced on or after that date.

Political Sphere’s Assessment: This is a very convoluted amendment to a very convoluted section of the constitution. The bill itself spans 20 pages (SJR 60). The section of the constitution deals with homestead protections against forced sale (foreclosure). It adds, to the liens homesteads are protected against forced sale, an extension of credit that includes bona fide points toward the rate. It also takes away protection against forced sale of loans on homesteads with agriculture exemptions. There are several other changes. There are definitely some positive changes, but this whole section should probably be pared down. As it stands now, it probably adds to quite a bit of paperwork on the part of mortgage and lending companies to ensure that they can foreclose on the property. Lending companies are never going to agree to a loan that they will not be able to foreclose on if you fail to pay.

Bill Number: SJR 34
Bill Author: Birdwell      House Votes: 142-4 (Craddick, Isaac, Murr, and Raney voted Nay) (2 Present, Not Voting); Senate Vote: 31-0

Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment limiting the service of certain officeholders appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate after the expiration of the person's term of office."

Explanatory Statement: SJR 34 proposes a constitutional amendment that would prevent certain office holders from serving indefinitely beyond the expiration of their term. Office holders who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate and receive no salary would only be able to serve until the last day of the first regular session of the Texas legislature that begins after their term expires.

Political Sphere’s Assessment: The first thing this amendment does is fix a language issue from a previous constitutional amendment. Then it fixes a functionality problem of that same amendment. The constitution previously terminated all officers “within” the state upon the completion of the Governor’s term. It now terminates all officers “of” the state upon the completion of the Governor’s term, unless their position requires advice and consent of the Senate, in which case they will continue until the first day of the legislature. The first change prevents reading the section to mean that local officials terms also end upon completion of the Governor’s term. The second takes away the gap of leadership that currently exists. I am in favor of this amendment.

Bill Number: SJR 6
Bill Author: Zaffirini      House Votes: 136-9 (Anchia, Cain, Collier, Cook, Israel, Rinaldi, Stickland, Tinderholt, and Wu voted Nay); Senate Vote: 30-1 (Hall voted Nay)

Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to require a court to provide notice to the attorney general of a challenge to the constitutionality of a state statute and authorizing the legislature to prescribe a waiting period before the court may enter a judgment holding the statute unconstitutional."

Explanatory Statement: SJR 6 proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow the Texas legislature to require any court that is hearing a challenge to the constitutionality of a state statute to notify the attorney general of that challenge, if the party raising the challenge notifies the court that the party is challenging the constitutionality of such statute. Additionally, the amendment would allow the Texas legislature to set a period of not more than 45 days following the notification to the attorney general that the court must wait before rendering a judgment that a state statute is unconstitutional.

Political Sphere’s Assessment: This amendment prohibits courts from ruling that any law is unconstitutional without first notifying the AG and giving a chance to respond. Obviously, this will only protect the statute in State Courts, not federal, and will only apply to state law, not federal. This was probably done as a reaction to the many federal courts intervening in things like HB2 from the prior session and voter id laws, but will do nothing to those particular suits. However, it does prevent state courts from effectively performing a Scopes monkey trial without allowing the AG’s office an opportunity to develop the best evidence for appeal. I am in favor of this amendment.

Bill Number: HJR 100
Bill Author: Kuempel      House Votes: 110-12 (Biedermann, Cain, Isaac, Lang, Leach, Rinaldi, Schaefer, Shaheen, Stickland, Swanson, Tinderholt, and Zedler voted Nay) (2 Present, Not Voting); Senate Votes: 24-6 (Birdwell, Burton, Hall, Hancock, Huffines, Van Taylor voted Nay) (1 Absent)

Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment on professional sports team charitable foundations conducting charitable raffles."

Explanatory Statement: HJR 100 proposes a constitutional amendment to provide a more detailed definition of “professional sports team” for purposes of their charitable foundations, which the Texas legislature may permit to hold charitable raffles. The amendment also deletes a requirement that an eligible professional sports team charitable foundation permitted by the Texas legislature to hold charitable raffles had to be in existence on January 1, 2016.

Political Sphere’s Assessment: Currently, charitable organizations set up by MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL, and NHL teams may hold charitable raffles, but may only receive cash for those raffle tickets. This amendment expands the sports leagues eligible, and allows to collect funds from debit cards as well as cash. It will probably pass, but since I am generally against gambling, I will likely vote no.

Bill Number: SJR 1
Bill Author: Campbell     House Votes: 147-0 (2 Present, Not Voting); Senate Votes: 30-0 (1 Absent)

Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty."

Explanatory Statement: SJR 1 proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow the Texas legislature by general law to provide that a surviving spouse of a first responder who is killed or fatally injured in the line of duty is entitled to receive an exemption from ad valorem taxation from all or part of the market value on the surviving spouse’s residence homestead, as long as the surviving spouse has not remarried since the death of the first responder. It would also allow the Texas legislature to provide that the surviving spouse, who qualifies and receives the exemption and then qualifies a different property as the surviving spouse’s residence homestead, receive an exemption from ad valorem taxation of the different homestead in an amount equal to the dollar amount of the exemption of the first homestead for which the exemption was received in the last year in which the surviving spouse received the exemption for that first homestead. Like the initial exemption, this benefit will only remain available if the surviving spouse has not remarried since the death of the first responder. The proposed amendment would apply only to ad valorem taxes imposed for a tax year beginning on or after January 1, 2018.

Political Sphere’s Assessment: This amendment simply allows the legislature to create an exemption for surviving spouses of first responders that die in the line of duty. I will likely vote in favor of this amendment, but I have a mixed opinion, because, while it does allow for additional limits (like limiting the number of years a surviving spouse is eligible), it does not require it. And it allows for the exemption to be up to a 100% exemption. I agree that we should take care of surviving spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty, but we should not expect that they will be unable to get themselves in a better position within a few years of their spouse’s passing.

Bill Number: HJR 37
Bill Author: Johnson, Eric      House Votes: 141-0 (1 Present, Not Voting); Senate Votes: 30-1 (Burton voted Nay)

Ballot Language: "The constitutional amendment relating to legislative authority to permit credit unions and other financial institutions to award prizes by lot to promote savings."

Explanatory Statement: HJR 37 proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow the Texas legislature to make an exception to the law regarding the award of certain prizes. Currently, the Texas Constitution requires the Texas legislature to pass laws prohibiting lotteries, raffles, and other programs where the award of gifts is based on luck or chance. The proposed amendment would make an exception to this general rule to allow the Texas legislature to authorize credit unions and other financial institutions to institute programs which, in order to encourage savings, would award prizes based on luck or chance to the credit union’s or financial institution’s customers.

Political Sphere’s Assessment: This is a simple amendment which allows the legislature to authorize financial institutions to have promotional giveaways promoting savings among depositors at the institution. I will probably vote in favor of this amendment.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Freedom Is Endangered But Not Extinct

In the last post I talked about the sci-fi series Extinct, created by Orson  Scott Card for BYU TV. There’s another theme I’d like to look at from that series—about freedom, or free will.

There are, among the few people who have been brought back to life 400 years after the extinction of humans, who are different from the handful who are the protagonists. This other group is called skin riders. There is a parasite, appearing as a glowing lump on the back of the neck, that joins with the human body. Ezra’s brother (from earlier earth days) is one of them; in fact, Silas is their leader.

The skin riders search out the humans, capture them, and try to make them join up.

In episode 2, Ezra has evaded the larger group of skin riders, and ambushes Silas alone. He overpowers Silas, and checks the glowing thing on the back of his neck. Here’s their first conversation [Ep2 40:58]:

Ezra tries to find out what has happened to his brother.
Screen shot from Season 1 Episode 2

: What is that?
Silas: Don’t hurt it. I’ll die if you do.
Ezra: What have they done to you?
Silas: Opened my mind. [others arrive] Don’t kill him!
Jaz: I won’t. [strikes Ezra, scene goes black. Ezra wakes at night near a campfire.]
Silas: If you try to run, I’ll call the others. You wouldn’t get far. I sent Jax to find your friend. (Ezra checks his own neck) We haven’t injected you. Jax wanted to, but…  I think it’s best if you choose to join us.
Ezra: I’ll pass.
Silas: Four hundred years and you haven’t changed. Nobody can teach you anything.
Ezra: Did the Sparks remake you?
Silas: The Sparks? Fascinating, aren’t they? How they can make anything—humans, clothing, a bologna sandwich, albeit a soggy one.
Ezra: That thing on the back of your neck—It’s alive, isn’t it?
Silas: A companion. It teaches me, comforts me, connects me to my brothers and sisters.
Ezra: I’m your brother, Silas.
Silas: You were. Join us and you will be again.
Ezra: It controls you.
Silas: Does knowledge control you? That’s what the companion provides. If I need to know how to start a fire, it shows me. It’s a gift!
Ezra: Can you remove it?
Silas: Why would I want to?
Ezra: Because it’s turned you into someone else.
Silas: Someone better, yes. What was I to you before, other than a disappointment? Now look at me. A leader. A spiritual advisor. I’m worth something now.
[flashback scene]
Ezra: You weren’t a disappointment, Silas.
Silas: Bankrupt at 20?
Ezra: Because you hired all those people, and you didn’t have the heart to let ‘em go when you should have. It makes you a bad businessman, not a bad person.
Silas: Doesn’t matter. I’m the person I want to be now.
Ezra: A slave?
Silas: A servant.
Ezra: Let me take you to the Sparks. They can heal you.
Silas: And go back to what I was?
Ezra: What you were was a better man, Silas.
Silas: My companion is very tired. (signals for Ezra to escape)
It appears, in a moment of weakness, the real Silas was able to come through, and that’s why he lets Ezra escape.

In Episode 4, Ezra’s wife, Lynn, is reconstituted (brought back to life as a human), but is quickly taken captive by the skin riders. She escapes but is eventually retaken. Somewhere in the sequence, one of the skin riders was killed by one of the other humans. At the moment Lynn is brought to Silas, he is going through a ritual about the dead man, removing his parasite (crystal in his neck), so his memories can be preserved. Anyway, Silas gives us this description of what that “Companion” does for them:

Silas: The humans kill our brother with one touch of their weapon. We offer them a companion to choose for them, to remove from them the burden of discipline and self-mastery, guilt, and shame. We offer them guaranteed joy, and they give us this.
He’s not, apparently, interested in the life and memories of the human, but of the parasite that inhabited him.

In episode 5, Silas is trying to persuade Lynn to voluntarily become injected with the parasite/companion. He starts out gently telling her how normal and improved they are. But when she asks what happens if she refuses to join them, the answer is pretty threatening.
Later he brings in a red drone, and produces a hologram of Lynn and Ezra’s daughter, but the hologram quickly disappears [Ep 5 12:38]:

Lynn: Is this what you’ve become? Cruel?
Silas: Death is cruel, Lynn. It rips us from those we care about, and buries them away forever. But what if I told you there was a way to connect with the dead? To see and feel their memories and knowledge whenever you needed them? Not with a machine, but with your mind?
Lynn: The crystal in your neck—
Silas: Always so smart. The crystal is the mind of an organism we call “a Companion.” It’s a friend, a counselor. But the human brain keeps getting in the way. Reactions are slower, decisions are muddled. There’s resistance.
Lynn: What do you want from me?
Silas: The drone and the Sparks wove the neural pathways in our brains. I want to block some of them, to give greater control to the Companion.
Lynn: I’m not a brain surgeon. I can’t help you.
Silas: I don’t need a surgeon, Lynn. I need a test subject. [pulls out a vial with a sharp end meant for injecting] You prick yourself. The companion does the rest. Once it’s taken root and you’re one of us, we can begin with the drone.
Jax: You should just stick her and get on with it.
Silas: You underestimate Lynn, Jax. She always makes the right choice.
But it’s not much later, a day or less, when he comes back and tries more persuasion [Ep5 23:26]:

Silas has Lynn captive.
Screen shot from Season 1 Episode 5

Silas: You still haven’t chosen to join us.
Lynn: Still weighing the pros and cons.
Silas: You haven’t changed, Lynn.
Lynn: Wish I could say the same for you.
Silas: You don’t know what you’re rejecting. You could be one with the Community.
Lynn: I’m one with my husband. That’s enough for me.
Silas: Technically, he’s no longer your husband. You were married “until death do you part,” remember?
Lynn: I remember. I remember you were his best man. And I remember the toast you gave. That you had everybody laughing one moment, and most of us crying the next. Because everyone knew you loved your brother. That’s what I remember. Do you?
Silas: I remember my knees shaking, my voice almost cracking, my heart pounding. Because I was weak and fragile. Now I’m not. I’m beginning to think you’re not going to make the right choice here, Lynn.
Lynn: I’m never going to join you, Silas. I’ll never give up who I am.
[he stabs her in the arm with the vile]
Silas: I didn’t want to have to do that. You’re angry right now, but when you have your Companion, we’ll have a good laugh about this. About how much fuss you made. Sleep well.
There’s a line in The Princess Bride where the Grandpa interrupts the story to say, “She doesn’t get eaten by eels at this time.” So, like that, I’ll say, she doesn’t become a skin rider at this time.

What I’m interested in, in these interchanges, are the enticements from the skin riders, through Silas. He offers freedom from error, freedom from weakness, freedom from “the burden of discipline and self-mastery, guilt, and shame.”

This is very much like the choice from the Council in Heaven—Lucifer’s plan. “I will take away your ability to make bad choices.” But that takes away humanness, and with it the ability to choose to be a good human being, leaving something far inferior.

Silas makes a show of offering a “choice,” but the choice isn’t really there; give in to having your self taken, or your self will be taken.

So, I was thinking of this “choice,” when I read an opinion piece from the New York Times called “WhyAre Millennials Wary of Freedom?” by Clay Routledge.

There are some disturbing statistics from the World Values Survey, the Pew Research Center, and other surveys:

·         Only 30% of Americans born after 1980 believe democracy (rule by the people) is essential, compared to 72% of older Americans.
·         In 2011 24% of young adults think democracy is a bad idea; they would prefer to be ruled over.
·         40% of millennials believe government should control speech they find offensive (not profanity, but rather ideas they disagree with).
·         20% or more of students of either party believed it was acceptable for student groups to use violence to prevent speech on a college campus that they disapprove of.
Routledge offers an explanation for why young adults have so little respect for freedom: “I propose that the answer is fear—the ultimate enemy of freedom.”

The Spherical Model can give us some perspective here. People who have not been brought up to understand the blessings of freedom live in the southern hemisphere, oscillating between chaotic tyranny and statist tyranny, unaware of the entire northern hemisphere of freedom. Those who seek power create, or at least point out, the chaos, accentuate its danger, and then promise to make everything calm. “Allow us to rule over you, and we’ll make what you’re scared of go away. But, if you don’t choose to be ruled by us, we’ll force you to.” That last part gets left unsaid, but it’s there in every tyranny.

As Reagan once said,

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.
Freedom isn’t extinct yet, here in our world. But if those statistics are an indicator, it’s on the endangered list.

If you have any influence over a young person, let them know that real freedom is not freedom from financial concerns, interpersonal challenges, or “the burden of discipline and self-mastery, guilt, and shame.” Let them know what real freedom is for: to thrive, grow, and live a fully human, happy and sometimes painful but meaningful life.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Family Isn't Extinct

I’ve been watching a new sci-fi series on BYU-TV called Extinct. One of the creators is Orson Scott Card, who wrote Ender’s Game, it’s sequels, and many other sci-fi fiction books and series. Even with those high expectations, I’m surprised at the quality of this show. I don’t know how they do it out of a college campus media program.

It was introduced October 1st, with two opening episodes. But BYU-TV did something I’m really appreciating. Besides showing one episode a week for the next month and a half, followed by a season finale, they put the first eight episodes online right away, for streaming at your convenience.
So I binge-watched that first week, up through episode 5. And then I decided to slow down, because I didn’t want to have a huge gap between those eight episodes and the finale. Anyway, I recommend the series, if you like sci-fi at all.

There was a moment in episode 5, “Broken,” that I want to highlight.

The premise of the show is that aliens came and wiped out the human race 400 years ago. But those aliens or others (not sure) recorded the DNA and memories of a number of the humans, and then they try to have the human race repopulate centuries later.

The humans wake up, one at a time, in a lake, with their memories from their previous life intact. They are at the age of their prime (mid-20s to mid-30s), regardless of the age at which they died. One character, Abram, was a psychologist near retirement age in his previous life.

I don’t want to give away too many surprises, but Abram has been trying to decode messages from a mysterious obelisk in their fortress, where there used to be a settlement. Rummaging around the place, he finds a notebook with shorthand notes—in a type of shorthand he invented for himself, back when he was a therapist. So it’s not possible that someone else wrote that notebook; he had been there before, trying to decode those very same things.

In episode 5, we get a flashback of the old Abram visiting his wife, Tasha, in the hospital before she dies. Then we see the new, younger Abram, in the fortress, talking with the drone (a floating metal robot about the size of a basketball) as he’s looking for something. If you watch the full episode, this two-minute clip comes at 18 minutes in.


Here’s the dialogue from the essential part:

Drone: Looking for something?
Abram: My notebook proves that I was here before. Maybe there’s proof Tasha was too.
Drone: What makes you think your wife may have been reborn?
Abram: Ezra and Lynn. Feena and Duncan. There’s a pattern of restoring couples.
Drone: I’d hardly call four people a reliable statistical sample.
Abram: Not statistics. Sociology. If you want to start a community and generate offspring, you need strong, monogamous relationships.
Drone: You don’t need monogamy to create offspring.
Abram: No, but you need it to create stable families. And you won’t have much of a civilization without those.
This isn’t the only time Orson Scott Card has his characters mention how important family is. I wrote about one place here.

The alien attack, when these Extinct people’s original bodies died, was approximately our day. It’s interesting that it’s an older character who understands, both intuitively and scientifically, the importance of family for building civilization, because in our day, especially among younger generations, that’s not always common knowledge.

For example, there’s this guy whose presentation came up through Mindvalley (a self-help organization, providing information on things as diverse as meditation, healthy eating, breaking through mental blocks, how the brain works, and other informative and sometimes weird things) on Facebook. The guy, Dan Savage, does a longer presentation called “The 3 things we get wrong about love, sex, and monogamy.” I apologize for the bleeped profanity; the subject itself is profane, but in the two-and-a-half-minute promo video [https://www.facebook.com/mindvalley/  October 4, 2017], Savage says,

Every monogamous relationship is a disaster waiting to happen. If you are with someone for 50 or 60 years, and you cheated on them one time, you are terrible at monogamy. It’s an impossible standard of perfection, and it’s why we all fail at it. Those who attempt it almost all fail at it. Those who attempt it almost all fail at it.
And we tell people, and people believe, that if someone touches someone else, someone who’s committed to you, made a monogamous commitment to you, touches someone else with their genitals even once, they didn’t love you. They never loved you. That your entire relationship was a lie, and your…the only corrective is divorce. You must leave that person. We define it as an unforgivable betrayal, and then we experience it as an unforgivable betrayal.
And we sit around with our thumbs in our a—s wondering why the divorce rate is as high as it is, when what we should be telling people is that you will grow up, you will fall in love. Perhaps if monogamy is right for you or what you think you want—a lot of people think they want it and actually don’t—you will make a monogamous commitment. And, asterisk, that doesn’t mean because you’re in love, you’re not going to want to f— other people. You’re still going to want to f— other people; so does your spouse. What monogamy means is you will refrain from f—ing other people, hopefully.
And if you make it through 50 years, and they cheated once or twice, and you cheated once or twice, you were good at mono… you get a monogamy gold medal, like the snowboarder who fell down that day. You should have a monogamy gold medal around your neck, not a noose around your neck.
I’ve been with my husband for 23-ish, 24-ish years, I can’t remember, but a long time. And for 18 of the last years, we have been non-monogamous. I have had conversations with people in monogamous… who are appalled by the fact that we’re public about it, that I’ve talked about it, the fact that we’re parents and we’ve talked about it publicly, and this is how these conversations have gone. I’ve had people look at me and say to me, “I could never do what you and Terry have done, because I value commitment and loyalty too highly.” And I look at them like…  I don’t say anything, but I’m thinking, “You don’t think I’m…  What?”  And the next thing out of the m—f—‘s mouth is, “All three of my marriages have been monogamous.” And I’m like, “Oh, what you’re committed to and loyal to is monogamy, not these a—s you keep marrying and divorcing, but monogamy.” We are committed and loyal to monogamy to such an extent that we are not committed and disloyal to the people we’ve married.
Let’s unpack this, because he’s making a living telling quite a number of untruths.

He’s not in an actual marriage; he’s in a same-sex relationship that cannot produce children (yet they got children from someone who did produce children). He says he’s married, but this doesn’t include the essential sexual relationship that leads to reproduction. And it does not include exclusivity as a marriage contract requires. He calls what he has a non-monogamous committed marriage. And the problem, he says, on his authority, is that the rest of the world thinks marriage should require monogamy.

He claims that nearly all marriages include infidelity, because fidelity is an impossible standard. That is, he thinks it’s hard, and therefore you should give up on the very idea. The social science shows that essentially all long-term same-sex relationships include infidelity—more so for gay men and for lesbians. So if he’s going by his limited experience, that’s about right. But their numbers don’t reflect what is normal for heterosexuals.

Among real marriages—between men and women, married for life, with exclusivity, or in other words monogamous—well beyond half, 70% or more continue without divorce. Of those, 78% of men are never unfaithful, and 86% of women are never unfaithful. Compared to the numbers for gays, those statistics are a sharp night-day contrast.

Heterosexual marriages that face infidelity are severely strained. Often they end in divorce. But where the straying spouse is repentant and willing to do whatever it takes to make amends—and this often takes professional counseling for both spouses—there is no requirement that the marriage ends. Savage is saying the goal is no divorce, which you get if you are willing to stay in a marriage with unrepentant infidelity. He’s not clear on the concept if he thinks that makes for a better actual marriage.

I’m raising an eyebrow at his casual reference to sex, like it’s a typo. If the person committed to you “touches someone else with their genitals even once,” like that could so easily happen. It doesn’t happen accidentally; we don’t walk around in public places with those body parts uncovered, where they could just accidentally bump into someone else’s. No, it happens when you make a number of decisions, a number of steps toward having sex with a person. If that’s with a person you are not committed to, then you did indeed commit betrayal. You lied. Maybe you thought you loved your partner, but apparently not enough to control your lust.

This guy holds himself up as an expert when he has no idea what an actual marriage is like. He doesn’t know that huge numbers of people are happy in their marriages—the vast majority of them with total fidelity. It means something when sex is an expression of love in marriage. It means something else entirely when sex is just about self-gratification within or without a relationship. It matters. Because when it’s about self-gratification, it isn’t an expression of love.

People are happier when sex is an expression of love. And that love grows when the two committed parents bring children into their forever family. Maybe, just maybe, God knew how we were most likely to be happy when he required us to limit sex to within marriage.

Because that’s the only way you get civilization. Without civilization we have savagery. There’s been plenty of that in the news this week. Consider: would it be better for us to slake our lusts wherever and whenever we want—so that whatever Harvey Weinstein and others like him do, we just shrug our shoulders and give them a pass? We don’t even think it’s wrong?

Weinstein’s defense? “Everybody makes mistakes.” Not big, felonious ones. Not dozens or hundreds of times. Not endlessly until caught and finally held accountable.

Who is happier when no one considers sex under any conditions wrong? Not those he has used.

Family--with a man and woman married and faithful, raising their children--is still necessary for civilization.